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by ARLnow.com July 11, 2017 at 1:30 pm 0

Jay Fisette, the most senior member of the Arlington County Board, has less than six months to go until his retirement. And while it will not happen during his tenure, there’s something Fisette wants for Arlington, eventually: for it to become a city.

In Virginia, local governments are divided into two top-level classifications: counties and independent cities.

Arlington is the fourth-largest county in Virginia by population — after Fairfax, Loudoun and Henrico — but by far the smallest, at only 26 square miles. In fact, Arlington is the smallest self-governing county in the U.S. (Mathews County, on the Chesapeake Bay, is the second smallest in Virginia, at 86 square miles.)

Fisette says Arlington has more in common with Virginia cities, like neighboring Alexandria and Falls Church, than it does with counties. And, he says, it makes sense that an increasingly urbanized place like Arlington should be governed as a city.

Additionally, many already refer to Arlington as a city, and for population-counting purposes the U.S. Census Bureau includes Arlington in its list of Virginia towns and cities, an exception the Bureau only makes for Arlington and for places in Hawaii, which has no incorporated cities.

A change to city status, however, would require action by Virginia’s state legislature.

“I have come to believe that Arlington County should ultimately become the City of Arlington,” Fisette tells ARLnow.com. “In 1846, we became Alexandria County — because we were much more rural than the City of Alexandria or DC. Then in 1920, we became Arlington County, in order to cause less confusion with our neighbor — the City of Alexandria.”

“Today, we are the geographically smallest, and most densely populated self-governing county in the U.S. and my experience is that we have much more in common with cities than counties,” Fisette continued. “I have not looked into this in a while, however, I know the change to a city would require General Assembly action. While I am not clear what they are, there may be some further changes that would be automatic with a city designation.”

In 2010, an attempt to change Arlington’s form of government, to one in which County Board members are elected by districts rather than at-large, failed to gather enough valid petition signatures.

Fisette didn’t reveal any plans to take action on changing Arlington from a county to a city, but did say he hopes it is “considered” by county leaders moving forward.

Fisette discussed the idea last month at the Crystal City Business Improvement District’s annual meeting. At the meeting, he also expressed his belief that the “City” in “Crystal City” should be lopped off and the neighborhood renamed simply “Crystal.”

by ARLnow.com September 20, 2011 at 3:13 pm 3,719 7 Comments

A political strategist whose firm was hired to help a ballot initiative in Arlington has pleaded guilty to two counts of election fraud.

Shawn D. Wilmoth was the president of Signature Masters, the company paid to collect signatures for the 2010 petition drive that sought to change Arlington County’s form of government. The initiative, which failed due to an insufficient number of valid signatures, was sponsored by Arlington’s police and fire unions and supported by the local Republican and Green parties.

Wilmoth was arrested this past April in Michigan and accused of instructing employees to fraudulently sign petition pages. He was extradited to Arlington in May and has been held without bond since. Today, Wilmoth pleaded guilty. A statement of facts entered as part of the plea reveals that Wilmoth hired two ex-cons, who were ineligible to collect petition signatures under state law, and asked them to not only collect signatures but to sign as a witness on dozens of petition sheets filled with signatures they did not collect.

As part of the plea deal, Wilmoth was given two concurrent 5 year sentences, with 4 years and 8 months suspended on the condition of good behavior and repayment of court and extradition costs, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Parker. Wilmoth was also sentenced to 3 years of supervised probation. Parker said he would likely be released from jail today after being credited with time served.

The two ex-cons hired by Wilmoth, Cheryl Simmons and William Cockerham, both pleaded guilty to voter fraud earlier this year.

by ARLnow.com April 11, 2011 at 12:20 pm 2,851 54 Comments

Less than two months after two of his employees pleaded guilty to charges stemming from last year’s change-of-government petition drive in Arlington, political strategist Shawn Wilmoth has been indicted on two felony counts of election fraud.

Wilmoth was the president of Signature Masters, the firm that was contracted to collect signatures for last year’s unsuccessful attempt to change Arlington’s form of government. The petition drive was sponsored largely by Arlington’s police and fire unions.

Two of Wilmoth’s signature collectors, Cheryl Simmons and William Cockerham, pleaded guilty to election fraud charges in February. State law specifies that petition signatures must be witnessed by someone who is at least eligible to register to vote. As convicted felons, neither Simmons nor Cockerham were eligible.

In a statement of fact entered as part of Simmons’ guilty plea, prosecutors said that Simmons told Wilmoth that she had been convicted of a felony before she was hired. Nonetheless, prosecutors say Wilmoth hired Simmons to collect signatures at a fee of $3 per signature. Later, when news reports revealed that Simmons was a felon, Wilmoth told the Washington Post that Simmons had passed a background check.

“It was an issue with the background-check company we are dealing with,” he told the paper.

Prosecutors said most of the 55 petitions pages that Simmons signed as a witness were handed to her by Wilmoth at a local Starbucks. Only a few pages, prosecutors said, contained signatures she had actually collected.

An Arlington grand jury handed down an indictment for Wilmoth on March 28. A warrant was then issued for his arrest. He was arrested Friday afternoon in Warren, Mich., according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andy Parker. Lt. Eric Schulz of the Warren Police Department confirmed Wilmoth’s arrest and said he was likely being held at the nearby Macomb County Jail.

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by ARLnow.com February 24, 2011 at 12:17 pm 2,442 12 Comments

(Updated at 1:30 p.m.) Cheryl Simmons, a convicted felon who collected signatures for last year’s change-of-government effort, pleaded guilty to voter fraud in Arlington County Circuit Court this morning.

Simmon’s guilty plea comes one week after another person hired to obtain petition signatures, William Cockerham, pleaded guilty to a similar voter fraud charge.

State law specifies that petition signatures must be witnessed by someone who is at least eligible to register to vote. As convicted felons, neither Simmons nor Cockerham were eligible.

Both Simmons and Cockerham were hired by Signature Masters, a firm that specializes in petition drives. The firm was contracted to collect signatures for last year’s unsuccessful attempt to change Arlington’s form of government, which was sponsored by Arlington’s police and fire unions.

In a statement of fact entered as part of today’s guilty plea, prosecutors said that Simmons told Shawn Wilmoth, the president of Signature Masters, that she had been convicted of a felony. Nonetheless, prosecutors say Wilmoth hired Simmons to collect signatures at a fee of $3 per signature. Later, when news reports revealed that Simmons was felon, Wilmoth told the Washington Post that Simmons had passed a background check.

“It was an issue with the background-check company we are dealing with,” he told the paper.

Prosecutors said most of the 55 petitions pages that Simmons signed as a witness were handed to her by Wilmoth at a local Starbucks. Only a few pages, prosecutors said, contained signatures she had actually collected.

So far, Wilmoth has not been charged with a crime.

Simmons’ sentencing hearing is scheduled for May 20. She remains free on bond.

by ARLnow.com February 18, 2011 at 9:52 am 2,503 43 Comments

A man who worked as a signature collector for last year’s change-of-government petition drive has pleaded guilty to voter fraud.

William Cockerham pleaded guilty in Arlington Circuit Court yesterday, the Washington Post first reported. He was accused of making false statements on a required form, a form of voter fraud.

As an ex-con, Cockerham was ineligible to sign as a witness on petition forms. Nonetheless, prosecutors say he signed off on forms that he circulated and on forms that other people circulated, which is also prohibited.

At the time, Cockerham was working for a Colorado-based firm called Signature Masters, which had been hired by Arlington’s police and firefighter associations to thousands of gather signatures in order to get a proposal to change Arlington’s form of government on the ballot. So far, the company’s managers have not been accused of criminal wrongdoing.

A second defendant in the change-of-government voter fraud case, Cheryl Simmons, has a trial date set for March 15.

by ARLnow.com December 22, 2010 at 3:45 pm 2,929 90 Comments

(Updated at 4:40 p.m.) Court dates have been set for the two individuals accused of committing election fraud during the summer’s failed change-of-government petition drive.

William Cockerham, accused of making a false statement on a required form, appeared in Arlington County Circuit Court today, was appointed an attorney, and was given a trial date of March 7, according to Assistant Commonwealth’s Attorney Andrew Parker.

Convicted felon and petition drive contractor Cheryl Simmons, who was indicted on the charge of voter fraud on Monday, did not appear in court today, Parker said. She’s expected to attend a hearing on Jan. 3, at which time a trial date will be set.

Simmons and Cockerham both face between one and ten years in prison and up to a $2,500 fine if convicted.

Parker could not say whether additional charges are likely against other Committee for a Better Arlington (CBA) contractors. A group that opposed the petition effort, the Coalition for Arlington Good Government, raised questions over the summer about the conduct of four petition workers, including Simmons and Cockerham.

The Coalition issued the following statement this afternoon.

This summer the Coalition for Arlington Good Government (CAGG) published a report detailing serious irregularities in the collection of signatures for the change of government petition.  The report can be found at www.arlingtoncoalition.org.

Our concern, then and now, remains the integrity of Arlington elections, and protecting our community from unethical and illegal efforts that may have been organized by paid out-of-state political operatives to fabricate a local “grass roots” movement.  Yesterday’s indictments appear to confirm that the Change of Government effort violated the trust of Arlington voters. We welcome the continued scrutiny by the Commonwealth Attorney’s office of the way in which this petition drive was conducted.

by ARLnow.com December 22, 2010 at 5:00 am 1,545 4 Comments

Petition Workers Indicted for Voter Fraud — Two individuals who worked on the unsuccessful effort to change Arlington’s form of government have been indicted for election fraud. William Cockerham and Cheryl Simmons are expected to have their trial dates set this morning. Earlier this year we exposed Simmons as a paroled felon, ineligible to collect the 2,214  petition signatures she claimed to have collected. More from the Washington Post.

ART Bus Lives Up to Its Name — Arlington’s transit agency has deemed its “Art on the ART Bus” experiment a success. The program placed artwork on an ART bus in connection with a new exhibit at the Arlington Arts Center. The arty bus launched on Dec. 11 and will continue rotating throughout the ART system for the next couple of months. More from the Arlington Transit Blog.

Court Appearance for Facebook Bomb Threats Suspect — The Arlington man who threatened via Facebook to place bombs in Georgetown and on Metro trains has been denied bail. Awais Younis, who lives in the Arlington View neighborhood, appeared in U.S. District Court yesterday. A judge ordered the 25-year-old held without bond, saying his arrest provides additional incentive for Younis to carry out his threats. More from WTOP.

Flickr pool photo by Plaszloc

by ARLnow.com August 5, 2010 at 9:06 am 1,611 9 Comments

Hot Tub Catches Fire in Cherrydale — The fire department responded to a residence near North Quebec and 22nd Streets for a hot tub that somehow caught on fire, we’re told. Firefighters quickly extinguished the blaze, then made sure the fire had not spread to the house. No word on whether the fire was caused by a malfunctioning time machine that sent its occupants back to the 1980s. Thanks to J.A. for the tip.

Clarendon Grill Nostalgia — With Clarendon Grill now closed for renovations, writer Melissa Stagnaro has penned a nostalgic account of working at “CGrill” in the late 90s. We’re not sure what it’s going on the web site of a small New York state newspaper, but it’s a great read nonetheless. One fun tidbit: the guy who interviewed her for the job was Nick Freshman, now co-owner of Clarendon hotspot Spider Kelly’s. At the time, Stagnaro writes, Freshman was “CGrill’s most junior manager… [he] had only recently been elevated from server status himself.”

Democrats Still Peeved About Change-of-Government Effort — Even after it failed to get on the ballot, the change-of-government initiative is still generating some raw feelings among Arlington Democrats. At the Arlington County Democratic Committee’s monthly meeting last night, former chairman Peter Rousselot called the effort a “criminal conspiracy,” the Sun Gazette reports. Rousselot said the Coalition for Arlington Good Government, formed to oppose the petition, will stick around just in case another change-of-government group comes along.

Flickr pool photo by BrianMKA

by ARLnow.com July 29, 2010 at 8:14 am 6,681 120 Comments

On April 27, Cheryl Simmons walked out of the Arlington County Detention Facility, having served 23 days in jail for a probation violation. About a month later, while still on parole, she became one of the top signature collectors for the Committee for a Better Arlington, the group formed by the police and fire unions to get a proposed change to Arlington’s form of government on the November ballot.

Simmons, who was hired by a contractor that specializes in collecting petition signatures, should have been well-known to local law enforcement, had they seen her collecting signatures on their behalf.

In 2006, Simmons was arrested for shoplifting and giving her family unauthorized discounts at the Arlington Hecht’s department store, where she worked, according to Arlington Police spokesperson Crystal Nosal. Court records show she plead guilty to felony embezzlement — a more serious charge since it was her third offense — and was sentenced to three years probation.

Late last year she was in trouble again, for passing a bad check at a check cashing store on Columbia Pike, police said. She served jail time between January and February for the charge, and in April for the probation violation, according to the Arlington County Sheriff’s Office.

Despite the rap sheet, Simmons was able to get hired by the contractor a month after her release, and apparently found the motivation to collect the third-highest number of signatures for the petition effort, with 2,916.

“That would be a shock to me,” said police union president Ken Dennis, upon learning of Simmons’ criminal background last night. “We just hired a company that had good references… I’m disappointed that they had this person on their staff.”

Dennis said he had never met Simmons nor heard her name mentioned.

Late Wednesday, after a “concerned citizen” brought the felony charge to the attention of election officials, Arlington County Registrar Linda Lindberg disqualified the 2,214 otherwise valid signatures submitted by Simmons, according to a person familiar with the situation. Only registered Arlington voters (correction: only individuals eligible to register to vote) are permitted to collect signatures for initiatives in the county, and as a felon Simmons would have been ineligible to vote.

Earlier this week, the anti-petition Coalition for Arlington Good Government alleged that Simmons may not have collected the now-disqualified signatures herself. Instead, CAGG said, the Arlington resident and another top signature collector, Natasha Robinson, may have signed off on petition sheets collected by out-of-town signature collectors brought in by the contractor. So far, there has only been circumstantial evidence to support the claim.

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by ARLnow.com July 27, 2010 at 3:56 am 4,355 93 Comments

With the petition to change Arlington’s form of government heading toward near-certain defeat, the Coalition for Arlington Good Government is trying to slam the last nail in the coffin with explosive allegations of possible fraud and illegal practices by the pro-petition Committee for a Better Arlington.

CAGG, a largely Democratic group set up to oppose the change-of-government proposal, alleges that CBA used hired, out-of-state signature gatherers who were legally ineligible to circulate petitions in Arlington. Then, CAGG suggests, two individuals may have falsely signed affidavits claiming to have collected the signatures actually gathered by the out-of-town contractors. More than 6,000 signatures may be invalid as a result, CAGG says.

The two individuals in question collected a suspiciously large number of signatures in an unusual manner, according to CAGG. Other evidence, methodically laid out in a nine-page PDF file, calls into question the integrity of the affidavit portion of the petitions, some of which appear to have different handwriting for the same individual.

CAGG also questions the ethics and judgment of former CBA campaign manager Dena Kozanas. The group says Kozanas did double-duty as a notary for more than half the submitted petition sheets, in violation of the conflict-of-interest provision in the code of conduct for notaries in the state of Virginia.

ARLnow.com is awaiting comment from CBA chairman Mike Staples.

by ARLnow.com July 22, 2010 at 5:05 pm 2,768 31 Comments

Start writing the eulogies now. The effort to change Arlington’s form of government has failed to attract enough petition signatures to get on the November ballot, ARLnow.com projects.

As of 2:30 this afternoon, election officials had counted 12,621 signatures, out of the 14,350 required by law to get a referendum on the ballot. Election staff are nearly finished with their “second pass” through the 761 petition sheets submitted by the Committee for a Better Arlington. A third pass is unlikely to yield a significant number of additional signatures.

Arlington County General Registrar Linda Lindberg says her staff has completed their second pass over about 700 petition pages. Since about 10,200 signatures were validated during the first pass, that means the second pass is, on average, validating 3.5 additional signatures per page. But with only 61 pages to go, it’s likely that the petition will only have about 12,900 valid signatures going into the third pass, which is expected to start Monday.

“I’d be surprised if we pick up another 100” signatures during the third pass, Lindberg said. With those 100 additional signatures, the petition will be more than 1,350 votes short. This spreadsheet shows just how improbable it would be for the petition to reach the magic 14,350 number from this point out.

It’s not clear what the next step will be for the Committee. In an phone interview last week, a CBA representative did not rule out the possibility of some sort of legal action.

“We’re going to wait for the Registrar to do their count,” the representative said. “Once they make that announcement we will proceed accordingly.”

(more…)

by ARLnow.com July 19, 2010 at 12:39 pm 1,935 16 Comments

It’s looking increasingly unlikely that the Committee for a Better Arlington will reach the mark needed to get a proposed change to Arlington’s form of government on the November ballot.

With approximately 250 pages to go during their “first pass” through the 761 petition sheets submitted, county election personnel say they’ve have counted 8,123 valid signatures. A total of 14,350 valid signatures are needed.

A “second pass” will be conducted to count signatures that could not be readily verified during the first go-round. However, if current trends hold, that process will most likely not yield enough signatures for the petition to pass.

The “rejection rate” for batches that have been fully processed is around 19 percent, according to a county source. At that rate, the petition will fall more than 1,000 signatures short.

by ARLnow.com July 16, 2010 at 2:46 pm 3,175 66 Comments

Change-of-government supporters collected 2,082 more signatures than necessary to get the measure on the November ballot, according to a rough count by Arlington elections personnel.

Officials counted a total of 16,432 signatures on the 761 petition sheets submitted before yesterday’s 4:00 p.m. deadline. The 57 sheets submitted yesterday contained 950 names, officials said.

Specially-trained staffers have begun the process of matching up the names and addresses on petition sheets to individuals on the county’s voter registration rolls. So far, about 3,100 names have been validated, according to county registrar Linda Lindberg.

Lindberg said she did not have a count of how many names have been rejected so far, but she did say that there have been a number of instances of people signing the petition more than once (an electronic system helps keep track of each recorded name and address).

It’s not clear how many extra signatures will be necessary to clear the 14,350 mark needed to get the change-of-government referendum on the November ballot. The 2,082 extra names give supporters a 12.7 percent buffer. There’s no comparable data from 1993, when Arlington had its last referendum effort.

by ARLnow.com July 15, 2010 at 4:00 pm 3,401 64 Comments

Update at 10:05 a.m. — An additional 54 petition sheets have just been submitted to the county clerk’s office, and another batch may be on the way, we’re told.

Update at 12:05 p.m. — Unofficial signature count from the first batch: 15,482.

Update at 4:00 p.m. — The county clerk has received a final batch of three petition sheets. Applying the average number of signatures per sheet from the initial batch, the 57 sheets submitted today should yield about 1,254 signatures, for a rough total of 16,736 signatures submitted. That’s 2,385 more than the 14,350 signatures required by law. The big question going forward: will it be enough to make up for the inevitable number of invalid signatures?

Update at 4:15 p.m. — Committee for a Better Arlington representative: “We’re very happy with the number [of signatures] we turned in today and we’re looking forward to being on the ballot in November.”

Update at 5:00 p.m. — Statement from the Coalition for Arlington Good Government, which opposes the change-of-government proposal: “CAGG has confidence in the Registrar’s ability to complete this step in a thorough, accurate manner. If the proposed referendum gets on the ballot, CAGG remains committed to ongoing voter education efforts. CAGG looks forward to continuing a community dialogue about how to promote good government in Arlington.”

Update at 11:00 p.m. — Election officials say they have verified 1,548 names so far.

Arlington County election personnel are conducting an initial count of signatures on change-of-government petitions. A total of 704 double-sided petition sheets were submitted to the county yesterday morning.

The initial count should be completed within an hour. Change-of-government supporters have told the county to expect another batch of petitions to be submitted by the end-of-the-day deadline.

After the deadline, county workers will begin the monumental task of verifying each name by hand. That is expected to take until August 9 or 10, said county registrar Linda Lindberg.

Despite earlier talk of bringing in elections personnel from other jurisdictions to help out, Lindberg said she expects to be able to complete the verification with existing staff members.

The last time a petition made its way through Arlington was 1993.

Actually, there were two petitions. One was to change the school board from an appointed body to an elected body. That measure would ultimately be approved by voters in a referendum. Another proposal, which received enough petition signatures but ultimately not enough referendum votes, was to allow off-track betting parlors in the county.

by ARLnow.com July 14, 2010 at 3:14 pm 1,377 12 Comments

Supporters of a proposed change in the county’s form of government submitted their petitions to the Clerk of the Arlington County Circuit Court this morning, the Sun Gazette first reported.

A formal hand-off of the petitions from the clerk to Arlington County General Registrar Linda Lindberg, whose department will verify the signatures, will take place at 9:00 tomorrow morning, the county said in a statement. Supporters need 14,350 valid signatures to get the proposal on the November ballot.

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